Several scholars have sought to identify a figure nāśî’ in Ezekiel’s final temple vision, chapters 40–48. Despite attempts by scholars, the debate has not reached a consensus due to three main problems. First, Ezekiel’s usage of the term nāśî’ seems inconsistent. Moreover, it becomes more challenging when compared with another royal terminology, melek. Second, defining the relationship between the future temple vision and the realistic figure nāśî’ is strenuous. In particular, the perspective viewed through Revelation 21–22 on Ezekiel’s temple vision makes it complicated to explain nāśî’, which appears along with the actual laws. Third, it has been debated if the nāśî’ in Ezek 40–48 is identical to the Messianic nāśî’ in Ezek 34 and 37. Generally, in the Messianic prophecies of the Hebrew Bible, melek is used to designate the Messianic figure as in Ezekiel 37. Yet, such Messianic features and roles do not appear in the nāśî’ in Ezekiel 40–48.
Several proposed answers have been put forth into two different categories. First, some scholars believe the nāśî’ in the temple vision bears a historical identity. Specifically, they insist that the figure is a human ruler or chieftain who enjoys the privileges of accessing sacred places in the restored community after the exile. The argument based on the literal approach leads to a critique of Israel’s kingship along with nostalgia for the pre-monarchy period. The insurmountable problem of this literal approach, however, is that it fails to explain the existence of the future temple and its meaning in line with the historical nāśî’. Second, others, commonly held among dispensationalists, identify nāśî’ as the messianic figure, Christ. According to this approach, the temple in the vision is the worship center after the second coming of Christ. Nevertheless, the scrutinized reading of the sacrificial system in the text rules out the messianic interpretation since there are still bloody offerings for the people of Israel to make atonement.
Therefore, this article aims to identify the meaning of nāśî’ in Ezekiel 40–48, along with the interpretation of the returned temple. I will argue that the nāśî’ is the new social leader after the exile. The meaning of his existence with the returned temple marks the end of the tyrannical kingship era and preludes the new hope era of fairness, justice, and righteousness in the post-exilic period. First, this article reviews the two camps of the ongoing debate concerning the figure: retrospective or messianic interpretation. Doing so I will point out the limitations of those interpretations. Second, I will interpret the meaning of the returned temple in the vision by using synchronic and diachronic approaches. This entangles the complex threads of how the future vision sheds on the meaning of the historical being nāśî’. Third, I will clarify the meaning of the nāśî’ in Ezekiel 40–48 by examining how the texts mentioning nāśî’ are consonant with my identification of the nāśî’.